It did not take Danny Amendola long to make an impact during Saturday's divisional round playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans. On the very first offensive play of the game, quarterback Tom Brady threw a pass to the left-side flat straight into the waiting arms of the veteran wide receiver. Amendola took the pass for a gain of six yards.
Those six yards were the first of 112 on the day for Amendola, who had a career-day yesterday. Never before in a playoff game did the 32-year old gain this many yards or catch this many footballs (11). He also led the Patriots in both categories yesterday showing once again that a) he can be counted on when the stakes are highest, and b) his role in New England's offense is a vital one.
Of Amendola's 11 receptions, five came on third down and all five of which produced new sets of downs for the Patriots. For comparison, when Tom Brady was targeting other receivers on third down New England converted only four of nine attempts. “Those third downs were huge today,” noted Brady after the game before adding: “We talked about in the bye week of really trying to improve that.”
The chemistry between Brady and Amendola – not just on third down – was apparent all game long. There's a reason for why the veteran was targeted a team-high 13 times: His quarterback knows that he can trust Amendola with making the play when it comes his way. And judging by the postgame quotes from some other members of the Patriots, they seem to know as well.
“Danny does a great job for us,” head coach Bill Belichick pointed out after the game. “His ball handling, his reliability, dependability is exceptional.” This year in particular, with Brady's number one wide receiver Julian Edelman on injured reserve, Amendola displaying those abilities is big for the Patriots – and according to Belichick it is no surprise to see him perform that well.
“Danny has great concentration, tough, really a smart football player, makes good decisions, good judgment, knows how to get open, makes some big catches in tough situations,” Belichick said about Amendola, who is in the middle of his most productive season as a Patriot. The veteran caught 61 passes during the regular season, gaining 659 yards – both bests during his five years in New England.
Of course, it has not always been that way: Amendola often served as a rotational piece in the past, seeing limited playing time as a result of this clearly defined role. However, one constant throughout the years was and is his seemingly effortless transition into who tight end Rob Gronkowski calls Danny “Playoff” Amendola: “Every time the playoffs come, big games, he’s always there. He’s always stepping up his game.”
Amendola did just that yesterday as well. “He delivered a lot tonight,” Belichick said about the wideout before adding: “As he always does.” And if the Patriots want their playoff run to continue all the way to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Amendola will have to keep on delivering. If the past is any indication, this is exactly what will happen.